STORY BY ELISABETH ALTAMIRANO-SMITH
Everyone has a special adult mentor that impacted their childhood in a positive, meaningful way. Often, it is a teacher that makes a difference in our lives. Teachers have the ability to identify and bring out the best in their students. Favorite memories of teachers can be as diverse as the students. Some teachers go to school games and cheer for their students from the stands, while others encourage unique, hidden talents and help with scholarship applications. For Autumn Carlisle, the teacher that made a difference in her life was Dr. Lisa Embree.
Embree was Carlisle’s first grade teacher in 1999 in Colonial Heights, Tennessee and made a lasting impact on her life.
“My parents were going through a very difficult divorce at the time,” Carlisle said. “They had been fighting over me since the age of three. I still have traumatic stress associated with remembering the details of it. Embree created a safe teaching environment that I didn’t feel threatened in. Every child needs a safe place that he/she can feel comfortable in and talk with the teacher without worrying about fighting.”
Sadly, Carlisle and Embree moved apart over time.
Initially both residents of Tennesse, Carlisle eventually relocated to Jemison and lost contact with Embree.
“I tried searching for her online in social media, but could not find her,” said Carlisle.
Eventually, Carlisle gave up on her search, but she knew that she wanted to become a teacher and make a lasting impact on students the same way that Embree had for her.
“I registered online at Walden University (an online four-year university headquartered in Minnesota),” Carlisle said. “Having online classes has helped me continue my degree during COVID and while having children.”
Spring of 2021 Carlisle registered for one of her education online courses for literacy assessment.
“About a week after I registered, I received an email that gave the course instructor’s name- Dr. Lisa Embree. I was shocked! I immediately sent her an email and asked her if she was the same Dr. Lisa Embree that taught first grade in Colonial Heights, Tennessee in 1999. She responded that she was!”
After decades of teaching, Embree remembered Autumn and was happy for the reunion.
“She was so tiny and quiet and had a sweet, sweet spirit,” said Embree.
In response to hearing Carlisle describe her classroom as a “safe environment,” Embree credits students feeling safe to building a good teacher-student relationship.
“I try to help the student understand their own strengths and what areas they need to grow in,” said Embree. “I want all students to have voice. It is okay to make mistakes and it is necessary to set up parameters, so the students know what is expected of themselves and you (as the teacher).”
Embree also implements small groups within the classroom setting.
“You don’t see small groups as often in high schools, but it is important in all age groups for the students to have that interaction,” said Embree. “They might never ask a question in front of the entire class, but they will feel comfortable asking the eight people in their small group.
Embree also likes to include fun, personal touches to the classroom setting like surveys of likes/dislikes, identify what extracurricular activities they are interested in and give students quotes to keep.
Embree and Carlisle have not met in person yet with COVID restrictions but chat regularly via email and telephone and hope to reconnect in-person this fall.
“It is rewarding as a teacher to know that my teaching stuck with someone,” said Embree. “It is moving. It is surreal. We are a school family.”
Carlisle will graduate in the spring of 2022 from Walden with her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and hopes to teach at Jemison Elementary.